Monday, January 11, 2010

Where are you, Jesus?

It is the question of the wounded woman carrying the loss of her husband or her child to the Sunday assembly of God's people. Where are you, Jesus? It is the question of the man who bears the burden of unemployment and a family counting on him and he does not know where to turn. Where are you, Jesus? It is the question of a child who watches a friend dabble in drugs or sex in search of meaning and purpose and love. Where are you, Jesus? It is the question of the world faced with injustice, violence upon the weak and vulnerable, and tyrants who prey upon those they are to care for. Where are you, Jesus? It is the question of the Church tempted to mirror in worship and parish life what they see on Oprah or the latest pop psychology or what people seem to want or desire from their lives. Where are you, Jesus?

Some find Jesus in truths as impersonal as the day is long even though they may be true. Some find Jesus in moralism or good behavior (that starts and usually ends with good intentions alone). Some find Jesus in rules to be followed or regulations to be obeyed. Some find Jesus in a Bible used more as a weapon than an instrument of grace. Some find Jesus in a warm feeling or a pleasant thought. Some find Jesus in a momentary distraction from an altogether sad or lonely or suffering filled life.

The Church is given one all important mission -- to point to where Jesus is in a world filled with people who do not know but who need Him desperately. This mission is lived out in the worship of the assembly, in the baptismal vocation of the people within the world, and in witness of His people. Our calling as the Church and as Pastors of the Church and as the people of the Church is to point to where Jesus is... except that we are not so sure, anymore. We have lost confidence in the old answers -- not because we have new or better answers but because we have grown weary of waiting upon the Lord and His timing, tired of His timetable not conforming to our needs, and tired of trying to explain why Jesus does not make it all better.

Where are you, Jesus? The answer to this question is not so difficult. Jesus is there in the Word -- working His will and purpose out through that Word. What is important to us is not simply whether or not His Word is true but whether or not it does what it promises. Something can be true and still be powerless. Jesus cannot. His truth is His power -- to enter our humanity with all of its darkness, distress, and death. His truth is His power -- to forgive the sins we cannot get rid of on our own. His truth is His power to address our mortal world with His immortality so that even today we glimpse in Him the eternity that awaits His consummation. His truth is His power to forgive what we have thought and said and done wrong - without condoning or explaining away our sin. His truth is His power made perfect in our weakness and sufficient for all this day's trouble. His truth is His power to restore our lost lives so that we may live out and live fully the new life that is His gift and blessing to once lost and condemned sinners. His truth is His power to answer death's reign with His reign, with the life that death cannot overcome that is our possession even while we are still on this side of glory.

To the folks on Sunday morning, to the Pastor who feels some anxiety over not seeing the hoped for results, to the sinner desiring forgiveness and the aimless wanderer looking for purpose and a home... to all of them, Jesus is here... in the water that kills us to make us alive again... in the living voice of the Gospel that personalizes absolution to confront our sin... in the bread and wine become His Body and Blood that we eat and drink satisfied and content.

I say to the Evangelicals who talk about Scripture as if it were a dead book, Christ is alive! He works His life through His Word. His Spirit is attached to His Word so that our hearts may hear and respond with faith. Christ is in the Word of the Gospel -- the Word that has the power to keep its promises and do what it says.

I say to the Protestants who talk about Sacraments as if they were terrible duty to be kept, Christ is here in the water of baptism... in the bread and wine that is His Body given and His Blood outpoured.

I say to the Roman Catholics content to watch or to return Christ to the Father as the Church's offering, Christ is His own gift and that gift comes through earthly elements set apart for His heavenly glory. He gives Himself to us not to be an object to be admired but as the food that has the power to do what it says, to feed us till we want no more.

I say to the Lutherans afraid to admit they are Lutheran -- Christ is here among us with His grace, delivering His gifts to His people in the water, bread, wine, and voice that bears His name. Teach and preach this powerful presence to your people.

Where are you, Jesus? Here... in the splash of the water... in the taste of the bread and wine... in the touch of absolution.., in the fellowship of those who bear His name and believe in Him... in the places where He said He would be... He is no figment of our imagination -- He is the imagination of the Father come down to fill our minds and hearts, to teach us to believe, and to lead us to live out what we believe...
Where are you, Jesus? That is what people come every week to ask me. At the very least I owe them an answer and as a Lutheran I owe them an answer rooted not in my own thoughts or feelings but in God's own disclosure. Jesus is here... in the voice that says "I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit." These are not perfunctory words but powerful ones that set free the bound and release from the guilty their heavy burden. Jesus is here... in the water that once claimed you for Himself and still holds you by connecting you to His own death and enveloping you in His life until the you, you once were, that you is dead and gone and God has revealed a new you. This is not symbolic water but healing water that lives up to its promise and accomplishes what it signifies. Jesus is here... in the bread and cup set apart for His purpose, according to His Word, as He has promised, to deliver to us heaven's bread, the bread of life and the cup of salvation that is His body -- the same one incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin, suffered and died on the cross, risen and ascended in glory... and the cup of His blood once pulsing through His veins and spilled at His circumcision and poured out upon the cross... yes it is a mystery and all we can say is to echo the words of Blessed Mary "how can this be..." and humble ourselves before this mystery as did she "Let it be to me according to His Word.."
Until this is the focus of worship, until the locus of Christ is where He has attached Himself to deliver to us the wonderful fruits of His life, death, and resurrection, Christ will always be an image without a connection to our reality, distant from our suffering, missing in our troubles, and ultimately powerless except to tell us to hang in there... Until we rediscover this vibrant and vital awareness of His presence in His gifts, our people will struggle alone, without joy to carry them through or grace equal to their trials or power sufficient to keep them steadfast and immovable... and, without purpose and identity as God's people within His kingdom who live out Christ's reign within a world awaiting its consummation and fulfillment...

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